Review: Faith, Morals & Money

By David Gill, reprinted from The 313.

Edward D. Zinbarg (MBA, Wharton; PhD, New York University) spent thirty-five years at Prudential Insurance as chief economist, chief investment officer and executive vice-president. During those years he also taught finance at City University of New York for fifteen years and co-authored the widely-used textbook Investment Analysis and Portfolio Analysis (1986). In his retirement, he earned a doctorate in religion at Drew University. Zinbarg was motivated to research and write this book on ethics and religion partly by the business scandals at Enron and other companies including his own Prudential Company – and also by his memory of his father’s ethical example in the garment manufacturing industry, as it was shaped by the deep, ethical teaching of the Torah. “What a difference it would make if the vast numbers of people who go to synagogues, churches, mosques, and shrines on weekends and holy days brought even a fraction of the wisdom of their faiths to the weekday marketplace,” Zinbarg muses (p. 11).

Rather than moral philosophy, religious authority and tradition is the major source of most people’s understanding of right and wrong. Reason and philosophy can shed light on the ethical dilemmas of economic life, but they lack “the compelling urgency of religious faith.” Zinbarg first makes his case for the importance of ethics in business and the role religion might play. He then devotes two chapters to the basic ethics of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Four chapters then explore cases and themes such as misrepresentation by sellers, truth in advertising, the ethics of part-time employment, child labor and environmental ethics. The solutions may vary from tradition to tradition but the bigger lesson is the similarities.

Zinbarg is not naïve in thinking companies will welcome religious ethics inputs but he makes a great case for why they should, especially in our global marketplace and our ethically-challenged era. Two decades after this book first appeared, the argument is more valid than ever. He also makes the still-valid case that religious clergy and theological educators really should up their ability and commitment to help their congregants understand their particular “faith at work” content they could take to their workplaces. Christians should recall St. Paul’s words to the early Roman church, that those outside the biblical tradition, nevertheless had “God’s law written on their hearts.” It should be no surprise that Christians can learn from those of other religious and philosophical traditions. And this openness is fully compatible with our view that Jesus Christ alone is Savior, Lord and God.

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